The Puzzling Case of Filipino Americans
IN THE SPRING OF 2011, I was in my last year of the sociology PhD program at UCLA. I'd been in the program for nearly seven years — long enough to have finished law school twice with time to spare. Like most graduate students, I wasn't making much money. Working as a college teaching assistant for the majority of my twenties hardly brought in the big bucks. So when I walked by this flyer in the UCLA sociology building, I thought I'd hit the jackpot:
Do you drink alcohol regularly?
Are you Asian American?
For completion of the study, participants would be compensated up to $215.
This study was tailor made for me. Given the typical stresses of PhD life, my fellow grad students and I were no strangers to the local bars, and as a Filipino, my ethnic roots were from Asia. This would be the easiest two hundred bucks I'd ever make in my life, I thought.
Apparently, I was wrong.
I called the study coordinator to set up an appointment for the following Monday, but before I hung up the phone, I mentioned that I was Filipino. This was when everything went downhill.
"I'm sorry, but you're not eligible for the study," the coordinator said.
"Why not?" I asked.
"Because we can only have Chinese, Japanese, and Korean participants in the study."
"But I'm Filipino. Your flyer said it wanted Asian American participants."
"Yes, but we need a genetically similar sample."
"You've got to be kidding me."
"No, I'm sorry."
I knew the genetics argument was bogus. Anyone who's taken Introduction to Sociology knows that race is a social construction, not a genetic one. People, not biology, determine the meaning of racial categories. Besides, there is a consensus within the scientific community that with respect to genetics, "all human beings, regardless of race, are 99.9 percent the same." Even though I had science on my side, the coordinator wouldn't budge. By her definition, I wasn't Asian American. I hung up the phone without bothering to say good-bye.
What was the big deal? Surely I could've shelled out a few bucks from my own wallet for a few drinks at happy hour. And so what if I wasn't going to make two hundred dollars? This was my last year of grad school, and within a few months, I'd be working as an actual college professor (finally). But this wasn't the main issue. What upset me most was that a researcher from a top university felt at liberty to exclude Filipinos from a study about Asian Americans. This researcher had no idea what she was talking about. Besides the plethora of scientific articles that have debunked the relationship between race and genetics, I also had the history books on my side. Any Asian American historian can tell you that Filipinos played a central role in the creation of the Asian American identity. ...
From The Latinos of Asia: How Filipino Americans Break the Rules of Race by Anthony Ocampo. Copyright 2016 by The Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of Stanford University Press.